Mixed Plate
My Take on "The Call"

Tough Call

On Monday night (1/15/01), I got a call from Mike Stewart. Being the good guy that he is, he just called to thank me and Chris for the contest coverage we had been providing for his MSIPP event. But there was a bit of concern in his voice.

His event started off really well, with the first three days running at the beginning of the waiting period (1/8-10/01). This left seven days to finish off just one more day of competition. Things were looking rosy, especially with some serious swell on the horizon.

However, on Friday (1/12/01) the surf ramped up so fast and big that the Eddie Aikau contest was held at Waimea. There is a North Shore community rule that only one contest can be running on the coast at any given time, and Mike graciously allowed Quiksilver to do their thing.

On Saturday, the surf was still too big and jumbled up, so he couldn't finish. Sunday had the swell diminish to tiny conditions--contest was called off again.

Monday was Martin Luther King's Day, a holiday. Another North Shore rule is that no contests may be held on official state holidays. That left two more days, Tuesday and Wednesday to finish the event.

The problem was that the surf was expected to once again rise big time. And therein lied the dilemma, and the other reason that Mike called. He wanted to know if I had any scoops on the upcoming swell.

The only way I optimize my surf sessions is by the excellent forecasting of others. I could not offer him any insight of my own. Despite that, I quickly looked at the FNMOC swell model, and noted that the surf was going to come up around Tuesday night in the 12' arena.

I offered to help him out by asking some surf forecasting acquaintances on their take. I told him I'd call him back in a few. Mike was stoked.

First call went to Pat Caldwell, oceanographer for NWS. Pat provides one of the most accurate forecasting services in town. Unfortunately, he was still out of town on business. Bummer.

Next I called Doug Frick, my Makaha bodysurfer friend who used to frequent the alt.surfing newsgroup. Doug was, as always, really helpful, giving me the lowdown on his forecast, which are usually spot-on. Solid swell, NNW, coming in as early as Tuesday afternoon, maybe 12-15', probably contestable at Pipe on Wednesday. It had been too long since I talked with my old friend--we had a great conversation catching up on the latest happs.

Called Mike back with Doug's take. He was happy, but still not sure. I told him I'd give another person a try.

Out of the blue I called Bruce Pleas, a wave skier from Kauai who used to have a forecasting service (Surf Fax, I believe). Bruce and I used to work together at Kauai amateur surf contests back in the day, and so I wasn't sure if he'd remember me. Fortunately, he did! Although he didn't do it as a business anymore, Bruce took a look at his charts and saw essentially the same thing as Doug. He also added that there was a possibility of it rising as early as Tuesday evening, and was concerned of a possible shift in the winds on Wednesday onshore. "Just watch the buoys," was his strong suggestion.

So I got back with Mike and gave him the lowdown. We also conference-called with contest director and Global Organization of Bodyboarders head Bob Thomas. That was all I could give them at the time. They took the information with them and thanked me.

Tuesday morning, I found that the contest was on! Surf was only 2-4' or 3-5', but they decided to hold it. I was surprised they didn't hold off. I was so bummed because I had a meeting in the afternoon and would not be able to make it.

However, at noontime, I got the word that the contest was called off. Talking later on with Mike, he told me that after he saw one top competitor do floppos to the beach, he made the call to stop the event. Didn't want the event to end that way--not a Pipeline contest. It seems many of the remaining competitors shared the same sentiment. They would try again on Wednesday.

I nervously watched as the buoys slowly rose through that night. It eventually settled to 15 feet, 17 seconds at around dawn.

The last day of the contest was here and wanted to deny it, but I knew in my heart that it would probably be too big. It was. The cams showed waves cresting at Third Reef, then rumbling through from Second Reef. It was mayhem. Contest was called off.

Mike immediately started working the phones, trying desperately to have the contest extended one more day. He got the OK from Reid Inouye, contest director of the Sunset Pro, who's waiting period would begin on Thursday. However, the challenge was to get the approval from the state.

The state actually has a clause in their surf contest bylaws to allow a waiting period extension if the conditions were "life-threatening." Man oh man did the conditions warrant an extension!

However, the problem was that an event that ran last year (which shall remain nameless) had caused a big "huhu" with the state. The unfortunate result to Mike's contest was that they flatly denied his request.

The backup plan was to head out west. Fortunately, Mike had an ace in the hole out there--he knew people with lots of pull. He knew the Keaulana's.

The contest eventually ran at some decent Ma'ili Point surf. Although it was fully blown out by mid-day, the surf was still large and contestable. A new Brazilian world champ was crowned, and an up-and-coming Aussie won the event.

People may look back at "the Call" and ridicule the decision, but I would soundly disagree. After all, hindsight is 20-20.  If you have been around surf contests like I have, you would know the difficulties in second-guessing Mother Nature.

There was an opportunity to finish the contest in epic form and Mike rolled the dice. No hidden agendas were involved except that Stewart wanted the contest to finish in the best possible surf. Take it from someone who knows.